And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.
(Ephesians 6:18 NIV)
Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing…
What is prayer? I am not aware of any scriptures that directly answer this question. Yet, there are many examples of prayer in scripture, especially in the Psalms. I will propose a simple definition: Prayer is communication with God.
Who should pray? Scripture exhorts all followers of Jesus to pray (per the three verses above).
When should we pray? “On all occasions” (Ephesians 6:18), and “without ceasing” (1Thessalonians 5:17).
How should we pray? “In the Spirit” “with all kinds of prayers and requests” (per Ephesians 6:18). Just what “in the Spirit” means is open to wide interpretation, but I tend to think of “in the Spirit” as being opposite to “in the flesh,” as discussed in Romans 8:1-17.
Jesus himself gives us more good direction on how to pray:
“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:5-8)
Jesus goes on to give a sample prayer, often called “the Lord’s prayer,” which many followers of Jesus use as a liturgical prayer:
“Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’” (Matthew 6:9-13)
Now it should be clear that the kind of continual prayer that scripture calls us to is not continual repetition of the Lord’s prayer. Rather, God wants us to dialogue with him about all aspects of life. Scripture gives us a sense of this:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7 NIV)
For Further Reflection
Pray Psalm 143, or another Psalm of your choosing.
Consider memorizing Psalm 143, or another Psalm of your choice (allow yourself several weeks or more to learn it).
Luke 18:1-8: The persistent widow.
Ephesians 3:14-21; Philippians 1:9-11; Colossians 1:9-12: Prayers for the churches.
2Thessalonians 3:1-2: Request for prayer.
James 5:13-18: Prayer.
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